Game 51: NYY vs. NYM — Perfectus interruptus

Perhaps giving Mariano Rivera a job to do before the game, other than greet fans and accept parting gifts from opposing team, is a bad idea. Today, following a nice ceremony in which Rivera was gifted with an FDNY call box and hose nozzle by the Mets and the FDNY fire commissioner, the Mets asked Rivera to throw out the ceremonial first pitch to former Mets closer and legend John Franco.

Or maybe it was the 1 hour and 31 minute rain delay that shook everything up. But either way, today’ s loss was really unexpected.

There has been a lot of talk recently about the Mets starting pitcher (Matt Harvey) because of his 5-0 record so far this year for them. He is quickly filling in a much-needed spot of consistency missing from the Mets rotation in recent years. He kept the Yankees offense on their toes, striking out 10 Yankee batters over 8 innings and allowing a single run — an RBI single by Lyle Overbay to hit Brett Gardner home. Short of that, Harvey showed why National League batters seem to fear his pitching. But it was his replacement that earned the win because of what the Mets middle of the lineup power hitters pulled out of their hat in the 9th inning.

Starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda went 7 innings, keeping the Mets scoreless, limiting them to 4 hits and earning 7 strikeouts. Robertson continued the streak in the 8th inning, keeping the Yankees on top 1-0. And Gardner for the 2nd time in the series makes a fun jumping catch at the wall in the 6th inning to spare a Mets batter from putting something on the board at that point. Also in the 6th, Kuroda also picked off a runner at 1st base for the final out of that inning, which earned the wrath of the Mets’ manager who was quickly tossed from the game.

So when Mariano Rivera stepped onto the mount to preserve the lead and earn his 19th save for the year, things suddenly didn’t work. With no outs in the 9th inning, he allowed a ground-rule double, followed by an RBI single to blow the save opportunity. A throwing error by Gardner at the plate allows the runner to score and the batter to reach 2nd base. Again with no outs, the next batter singles out to right field and the runner at 2nd base scores easily for a walk-off single for the Mets win tonight 2-1.

Rivera has been perfect all year, so this blown save is unexpected. And it’s a shame really for both Rivera and for Kuroda who really had an outstanding outing today in Queens. And yes, it’s a shame for the Yankees to lose again, which keeps our team a solid 1 game behind Boston in the AL East.

Also Joba Chamberlain has been activated following his stint on the DL, which was made possible by designating recent acquisition David Huff for assignment. And Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis are on their way to AA Trenton for their rehab assignments. This means the corner infielders are on their way back into the regular lineup, but this also means that someone will have to go home on a more permanent basis within a couple of weeks.

That is certainly not a job I envy having to dictate people’s careers at the shifting of another person’s careers. I think of that scene in Moneyball, where the assistant GM is having to tell some player that he’s been traded and it’s harder on the assistant than it is on the player. I suppose some players get used to being shifted around like chess pieces. I think it would be harder on the person who has to give the bad news than it is for the person who has to receive it. But then again, I’ve never been on either side of that conversation.

Something tells me that however the pieces land, the Yankees will still continue to reach potentials unexpected of them this year because they are, after all, a team first. It’s the team that ultimately either wins or loses. It’s the team that makes the playoffs and the individual that watches them from his home in October. It’s the individual that has to have their name, their face, their trick plays on display, in the papers, and on fans jerseys for every game, and the team that celebrates every good play, hit, and personal victory. And while names and individuals will continue to be shuffled around, it’s the team that continues on whether the “names” are suiting up to play or the “no-names” are. Either way, they’re all Yankees, and once a Yankee…

Go Yankees!

Game 50: NYY vs. NYM — Subway Series Opening Loss

All across America today, the “natural rivals” began their split series against each other — like Los Angelenos flocking to Angels vs. Dodgers, San Franciscans to Giants vs. Athletics, Missourians at Cardinals vs. Royals, Buckeyes saw Indians vs. Reds, and the Windy City hosted Cubs vs. White Sox. But for New Yorkers today was the start of the Subway series, coined as such during the 2000 World Series (which the Yankees won, in case you could forget). They split the series 2 in Citi Field (the Met’s home field in Queens, just a stone’s throw from where Shea Stadium was until 2009), and 2 back in the Bronx.

Tonight’s starter Phil Hughes really did an outstanding job keeping the Mets scoreless, backed up by an outstanding defense. Even with a 1st inning triple off the back wall by Mets’ star 3rd baseman (and recently appointed captain) David Wright, Hughes only allowed 3 hits for the first 6 innings. It was a solo home run off Wright in the 7th that broke the Mets scoreless streak.

David Robertson, however, saw the most eventful 8th inning — a strikeout looking, a ground-rule double, a walk, a fielder’s choice that Cano threw to get the out at home, an RBI single, and Wright hit by the pitch (a minor delay, but he’s fine). Finally Logan was brought in to get the last out with a swinging strikeout. Robertson also earned his first loss, as the Yankees’ bats couldn’t hit off the Mets closer to score in the 9th.

The Yankees’ offense hit in the 6th inning, starting with a Brett Gardner triple. He easily scored on a Jayson Nix single to give the Yankees their only score of the evening. In total, the Yankees got 9 hits off Mets pitchers, but their defense just didn’t allow the Yankees to advance much past their initial hit.

Now, my favorite play of the night (and most of the people online and behind the sports desks agree) is from Brett Gardner, who continues to prove to the Yankees why he’s one of the best things to set foot in the outfield since the likes of Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams, Mickey Mantle, and Joe DiMaggio. In the 6th inning, with two outs, a Mets player snaps a long ball out to center field. Gardner follows it all the way to the ball way and jumps up to snatch it out of the air, stealing a 2-run homer from the Mets and ending the inning.

In honor of Memorial Day, the players donned desert camo-tinged uniforms — camo hats with their insignias and their jersey’s numbers and front names were filled in with camo instead of their regular team colors. The Yankees and many in Major League Baseball have been outspoken in their support of veterans’ projects like the Wounded Warrior Project, and the Yankees continue to find ways to honor American veterans who continue to serve and sacrifice every day across the world for us, including “God Bless America” during every 7th inning stretch at home and many away games.

And while it would’ve been nice to see the guys win, it was something to continue to see how more teams continue to recognize those who have dedicated their lives to the service of their country. On Memorial Day, we do take a day to remember those who have given their lives for this task and thank those who have served. But this is something we should do every day. We should always be grateful to those who spend their lives (sometimes at the cost of their own life) in the service to others. That’s why the Yankees’ 7th inning tradition is important, and taking a moment to thank a soldier you encounter is important. Not just on a single day of the year, but every single day. After all, they give their every single day for us.

And so, I say thank you to many of my family and friends who have served and those who are on active duty, serving across the globe. Your sacrifice isn’t forgotten; you are not forgotten; you are very greatly appreciated. Thank you!

Go Yankees!

Game 49: NYY vs. TB — A last ditch effort

Someone on Twitter called the domed stadium of Tropicana Field CC Sabathia’s “kryptonite”. But really today just continued to prove my theory about Sabathia, something I’ve been aware of since he was with the Indians (thanks for family loyalties) — when he’s good, he’s unstoppable; but when he’s having an off-day, games like today’s happen.

19 pitches in, Sabathia hits a batter in the 2nd inning. And that one moment of weakness just blows a hole in the defense behind him. Two runners then reach on a fielder’s choice to load the bases, followed by an RBI single (bases loaded again) and a sacrifice fly. And as the inning ends on the next batter, it’s already 2-0 Rays. A single and 2-run home run in the 3rd up the score to 4-0 for the Rays. And then things settled down for the Rays offensively for a few innings, but Sabathia’s outing continued to be less than stellar. In the bottom of the 6th, he allows a walk, an RBI double, and a 2-run homer, and then gets the next three batters out to end the inning with a score of 7-0. Overall, Sabathia’s 108 pitches over 7 innings, allowing 7 runs and 7 hits (clearly not his “lucky number” today).

He was replaced in the 8th by newly acquired David Huff (formerly of the Indians). He struck out his first batter and then walked 2 straight, trying to pitch around the Rays offense that took advantage of the starter. He allowed a double that scored one of his walks to see the score rise to 8-0 Rays. Huff gave a decent outing, which may not have seemed so if he had not followed up someone’s off day. It will be interesting to see if this lefty can be useful for relief out of the bullpen and how he factors into the clubhouse. (For those of you wondering, Ben Francisco was Designated For Assignment to make room for Huff on the 40-man roster.)

There’s not much to say on the Yankees offense for most of the game. They didn’t show up until the 9th inning, when Brett Gardner smacked a homer out to the right-center field seats to finally earn a score on the Yankees side of the board. A single by Cano (then a strikeout) and a walk to each Hafner and Overbay loads the bases as David Adams steps into the batter’s box. Adams hits a long ball just a few inches below the top of the left-center field wall for a 2-RBI double. (A few Yankee fans around me seriously thought it went out of the park it was so close to the top. Fans have to wait a little longer to see our first grand slam of the year. It’s coming, the when is still a question.)  The final two Yankee batters struck out to end the game with a final score of 8-3 Rays.

I thought about how many people leave the games early and miss some of the best stuff at the end of the games. Yes, the Rays still won, but that last 1/2 inning alone makes it worth staying for the whole game. You just never know. Yesterday, after dealing with the reality of his newest injury and DL stint, Curtis Granderson posted this via Twitter:

I was talking with a friend about how the Yankees fought back yesterday. And they fought again today. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but you don’t stop fighting either way. If Churchill’s quote is true, the Yankees are the most optimistic team in the league this year. They weren’t supposed to win anything, and they’ve never learned that when you’re down 8-0 in the last inning, the game is over and you should just “give up”. Another quote I love by Churchill is “Never, never, never give up.” So I guess I can call them Churchill’s Yankees this year. They just don’t ever give up. And why would you, if that perseverance keeps landing them solidly in 1st place in the AL (now tied with Boston, but still on top).

Go Yankees!

Game 48: NYY vs. TB — The Empire Strikes Back

It’s not every day that you can legitimately use a Star Wars reference, even if the Yankees did capitalize on their nickname (“The Evil Empire”) and get it trademarked earlier this year. But today, it is appropriate. After all, it’s not every day the Yankees crawl back to win a game in extra innings and notch Mo his 18th save this year.

But then again, the Yankees struck first in the 1st inning when Travis Hafner singled to score Brett Gardner (1-0). Starting pitcher Vidal Nuno really did a great job keeping the Rays “out to sea” (sorry, I’ve been sitting on that pun all week), until the 5th inning where a Rays batter scored on a double to left field. After allowing a single and throwing his 87th pitch of the night, Nuno was replaced by Kelley (who allowed a single) and then Logan (who then allowed an RBI single and a fielder’s choice RBI). Preston Claiborne came on to finally get the last two outs of what ended up being a very long inning for the Yankees as the scoreboard read 3-1 Rays.

It really looked as if the Rays had everything sewed up, which led to a mass exodus of fans leading into the 9th inning. Boy, were they in for a surprise when they got home. It was the 9th inning that the Yankees declared war on the Rays with delicately placed players to do the most damage. On two outs, the Rays famed closer walked Lyle Overbay. Brennan Boesch, recently recalled to replace Granderson while he heals, doubles and scores Overbay. It is now 3-2 Rays. Brett Gardner hits a long single out to mid-center field, scoring Boesch to tie up the game, before being caught stealing 2nd for the final out of the game.

It is at this point that the Yankees continued to hold the Rays offense off, including a nice sliding catch by Ichiro Suzuki to save the game and even with bases loaded in the 10th. Ivan Nova, in his first appearance from coming off the DL this year, allowed 2 singles and a walk before a lucky strike out and ground out end the inning and any potential walk-off.

And then it’s the 11th inning, and only about half the original crowd is left under the dome, the Yankees fans are out very much in full force and easily compete with the home crowd for cheering and chants. And down again 2 outs, it’s Lyle Overbay up to bat. Overbay finds his pitch and sends it sailing into the right field seats making it 4-3 Yankees. I honestly was in shock. We were going to win the game. And guess who was in the bullpen warming up. The lucky few who remained at the Trop at that point got to witness a 9-pitch inning by Mariano Rivera to save the win on what was a well-fought game in Tampa tonight.

Also, I dubbed Jayson Nix the King of Foul Balls tonight, as he hit 11 foul balls off the Rays bullpen and into the crowd.

It’s not every day you get to see why the Yankees are a good team, a winning team, let alone a really great game. So it was a rather fun way to spend an evening, not only watching the Pinstripes (or Away Greys tonight) win, but watching them have to fight for the win. I always said I prefer tight games than total blowouts, and tonight was no exception. Even I had doubts for a while as to whether the Yankees could pull it off. Why did I ever doubt them? This “no-name” team continues to prove its excellence, regardless of who’s in their uniforms. Girardi deserves more credit than he gets for pulling this off.

I’d also like to take a moment to remember the biggest baseball fan in my family. My grandfather’s birthday was today, and he would have been 81 today. And while his team didn’t win today, his daughter and granddaughter saw their favorite team win a great game today. And if anything he loved (even more than the Indians), it was a great baseball game, regardless of who was playing and honestly even who won. Appreciation for the game itself and the excellence of the players is something I’ve proudly inherited and hope to pass on one day. It’s the appreciation I hope I share every day with my readers.

So happy birthday, Granddaddy! This one’s for you.

Go Yankees!

Game 47: NYY vs. TB — A win, a loss, and everything in between

I don’t think I’ll ever be used to domed stadiums. I lived in the Tampa area when they built Tropicana Field and introduced the Rays (or the “Devil Rays”, as they were dubbed for the first decade of their existence). But even then, I thought the idea of a covered baseball field was weird. Baseball’s an outdoor sport from start to finish. But today, it was a very humid 90-degree day, one of many Florida will host this summer. And suddenly the concept of an air-conditioned stadium didn’t seem so weird.

That being said, it was a rather complicated game. Starter David Phelps had a really strong outing tonight, holding off the hitters until the 5th inning. In the 6th inning, Phelps seemed to falter a bit, allowing 2 singles and a double (that scored a runner); a ground out and a fly out each scored runs before the Phelps got himself out of the inning, relying on the ever-reliable outfield defense. A triple allowed in the 7th would score on the sacrifice fly to bring the total to 4 runs for the Tampa Bay Rays tonight. At that point, the Rays must have been a little frustrated with Phelps because on what should have been the 3rd out, Phelps gets a line drive comebacker to his right forearm.

No worries on Phelps: it’s a bruise and he won’t miss his next start in New York next week. But it was frustrating for him not to be able to finish his 8 innings. Logan threw 4 pitches to get the final out of that inning before Kelley got the final three outs for the win tonight.

On the offensive side, the Yankees collected 11 hits overall. They made the Rays starting pitcher throw 84 pitches over the first 4 innings, an average of 21 per inning or 7 per out. (To put this into perspective, Phelps threw 98 for 7.2 innings, 12 per inning, 4 per out.) It was the 3rd inning that got the ball rolling for the Yankees offense — a Hafner ground-rule double with fan interference and Adams single allowed both to score easily on a Lyle Overbay double, who scored on a Nix single, and the score was a quick 3-0. Gardner’s homer in the 4th also scored Chris Stewart, who made his return today after a pulled groin muscle last weekend, and the score is now 5-0.

And then it was the 5th inning. Curtis Granderson, recently returned from the DL with a broken right arm, got a 90 mph sinker on his left hand, shook it off and took his base. Two singles from Adams and Overbay load the bases when Nix draws a walk to walk home Granderson, who takes off for the trainer’s room and an x-ray on his sore left hand. A Stewart single scores Adams and loads the bases. And as Cano takes a pitch high and inside off his hands, Overbay scores as the scoreboard then reads 8-0.

Ichiro took Granderson’s place defensively in the bottom of the 5th, and when reports come in, Granderson has a fractured right pinky that will take at least 4 weeks to heal. That’s right… just when we get him back, he’s gone again. Talk about a need for Angels in the Outfield, but how about some angels in the batter’s box?

To finish up the recap, in the 7th inning, Jayson Nix triples on a long ball that almost made it out of the park, and a wild pitch to Chris Stewart allows Nix to score easily, almost on defensive indifference with how the catcher made that play. This made the final score 9-4 (after the Rays score at the bottom of that inning).

I really hate talking about injuries, especially now that we’re starting to get people back. Even Mark Teixeira is on his way back to a rehab assignment, probably with AA Trenton next week. And Ivan Nova was reactivated today and assigned long-reliever bullpen duty, (to make room Betances was sent back down to the minors). People have described tonight’s win as bittersweet because it is. And while it was fun to watch Phelps and the Yankee hitters work their magic at the Trop, it’s really hard to celebrate when “another bites the dust”, so to speak.

I should note here that there were several other injuries around home plate tonight — the Rays catcher took a bouncing foul ball on his knee and the umpire took a foul ball off his upper arm. Yes, I’m guessing Angels in the Batter’s Box would be more of an appropriate need for recent events.

But there is still hope. Granderson isn’t gone forever. Bones do heal. And perhaps that is the life lesson in all this. When we see something broken that begins to heal, it’s never again a weakness. In fact, it’s usually better and stronger than ever. And that may be the best part of the 2013 Yankees — they may seem fractured or patched-up, but they’re fighting to be stronger than ever. And in that way they are by far succeeding.

Go Yankees!

This day in Yankee history…

Seeing as we have a nice off day today and the players are gallivanting around Tampa, I thought I’d use this opportunity to turn back the clock and look at two events that occurred on May 23rd in Yankee history. And in light of the recent touch of home run streaks, I thought both instances were appropriately timed.

Sunday, May 23, 1948, the Yankees were scheduled to play at Cleveland in a doubleheader. In the first game, Yankees great Joe DiMaggio hit three consecutive home runs (his 8th, 9th, and 10th of the season he hit 39 total). The first two alone were off  future Hall of Famer Bob Feller (considered one of the Indians’ greats). That day, the Yankees beat the Tribe 6-5, DiMaggio was responsible for all 6 runs scored that game. I should note that they dropped the second game to the Indians 1-5, DiMaggio going 0-for-3 with a walk in that game.

For further reference that year, the Yankees 2.5 games behind, Cleveland won a one game playoff against the Boston Red Sox to get into the World Series against NL champions the Boston Braves. Cleveland would go on to win the Series in 6 games, for the second and last time in their franchise history. It was DiMaggio who led the league in home runs and runs batted in. But DiMaggio lost the AL MVP award to Lou Boudreau that year. Boudreau was the player-manager of the Indians. Another contender for the award was Boston’s Ted Williams who batted .369. The NL MVP went to Cardinal’s Stan Musial who batted .376, led the league in runs scored, runs batted in, hits, doubles, and triples — easily one of Musial’s best years as a player.

On Wednesday, May 23, 1962, the Kansas City Athletics were about halfway through the stint in the Midwest, an unimpressive showing on their way to Oakland by the end of the decade. And that day, they played at the original Yankee Stadium. By the 7th inning, Kansas City had racked up 7 runs to the Yankees’ 4. I’m sure at this point, Kansas City thought they were sitting pretty, sending in their starter to the 8th inning to continue their way to the win. But like a certain man who drew a walk that inning for the Yankees famously said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” And the Yankees suddenly pounced. Right off the bat, Joe Pepitone hits a home run. The starting pitcher is replaced and his next two batters (including Roger Maris) walk. Elston Howard (the first African-American Yankee) smacks a single to plate Maris. The score is now 6-7. Pinch hitter Berra draws a walk to load the bases (and is replaced by a pinch runner).

The next batter singles home Howard and another runner — 8-7. The next batter, a pinch hitter, walks to load the bases again. A single from Bobby Richardson easily scores another runner — 9-7. Finally, the Athletics replace their pitcher who clearly had a hard time finding the strike zone. A fly ball becomes a sacrifice fly scoring a runner — 10-7. And then Joe Pepitone is back for more damage — a 3-run home run to bring the final score to 13-7 Yankees. After the bases are cleared, the pitcher is able to get the next two batters out to mercifully end the inning. Joe Pepitone’s two home runs in one inning made him the second player in Yankee history to do so. Joe DiMaggio was the first Yankee to do so in his rookie year (1936).

I should note that 1962 was also one of the many years that the Yankees won the World Series. The Yankees won over the San Francisco Giants, taking it in a full seven games. I should note that technically, the Giants outplayed the Yankees in the Series, but as usual, the Yankees knew how to garner the runs that make a win a win. And it was Mickey Mantle, who watched the rout from the dugout that day on his off day, who took home the AL MVP. Mantle hit his 400th career homer in September of that year.

I guess it just serves as a reminder that you never know when the right hit or the right turn or the right moment is suddenly upon you. But when it is, jump on it. Go for it. You never know what can happen if you just go for it. And even if you fail, at least you won’t regret not doing it.

Go Yankees!

Game 46: NYY vs. BAL — Leave behind the half-life

Hiroki Kuroda came out of the game in the 3rd inning after being hit in the calf by a ball from a batter. (I should note here that it’s simply a bruise and he was pulled from the game only as a precaution and won’t be missing his next start.) But his evening wasn’t good from the start. In the 1st inning alone, he allowed a solo home run and a 2-run home run, throwing to 7 batters on the Orioles roster. In the 3rd, he allowed a single and a double (with no outs) before being pulled for a replacement pitcher who immediately allowed a 3-run homer to put Baltimore up 6-1. Other than that, Claiborne and Warren kept Baltimore batters at bay.

Offensively, it was Curtis Granderson who scored 2 runs tonight. For awhile, there was talk of him hitting for “the cycle” (hitting a single, a double, a triple, and a home run in a single game) — something the Angels’ Mike Trout did just last night. But he was a triple away from the cycle and instead drew a walk on his last at bat of the night. Granderson got a double and scored on Cano’s RBI and got a 5th inning solo home run. In the 9th inning, it was David Adams’ turn to hit a solo home run, which apparently an avid Orioles fan proceeded to throw back into the field. (Didn’t Yankees fans start that to Orioles’ home run balls in Yankee Stadium last year? Why Adams and not Granderson? Be consistent with your displays of fan-dom!) Final score: 6-3 Baltimore.

In fact, the final box score saw 14 Baltimore hits versus 7 New York hits and a 6-3 score. It really felt like the Yankees were playing a half-game tonight. Perhaps, there was minor discouragement because of Kuroda’s oddly weak outing. Or perhaps it was the rather rowdy, raucous crowd at Camden Yards, who seemed to find pleasure in shouting random things that vaguely resemble smack talk at the Yankees. I have a few favorites of the night that were also documented via Twitter. The first was spotted by a reporter and responded to by the Yankees PR department:

Another reporter mused on another fan’s obsession with Hafner (perhaps his 2 walks had Orioles’ fans up in arms):

But my absolute favorite was:

And while it was clear the Orioles fans were given much to cheer about on their end of both the defense and offense tonight, it wasn’t enough to continue their attempt to create some sort of rivalry with the Yankees. Well, they certainly aren’t trying to form an alliance. But tonight wasn’t a great outing overall for the Yankees, and the fans in Baltimore had every right to cheer for their team. I will always get cheering for your selected loyalties, but I don’t think I can ever get behind the jeering part of it. I mean, think of how many times Yankees fans have jeered players like Youkilis, Hafner, Wells, or even Ichiro. And now, they are all safely endeared even to the most hardened Yankee fan.

There is such a thing as good sportsmanship, and I believe that extends to all of the people in the seats. I will applaud an opponent’s pitcher as he walks off the field after a good outing. It’s respect for their work and for the person and player they are, and honestly, I am also cheering that they are now out of the game (especially if they’ve kept my team scoreless). I think they only time I’ve ever closely jeered at something on the baseball field is when an opposing manager really throws an unnecessary temper tantrum. I’ll cringe and get heated at bad obvious umpire calls, but jeering is just a way to spew hate and negativity. It doesn’t change anything, it certainly doesn’t help anyone, and it really just makes you look like a jerk or an idiot (as seen from the above tweets). Think twice before you jeer next time!

Go Yankees!